Sophomore guard Nate Hinton records his seventh double-double of the season in a victory

Cougars win conference opener over UCF

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The University of Houston Men's Basketball team (11-3, 1-0) opened its American Athletic Conference schedule with a 78-63 victory over the UCF Knights (9-5, 0-1), Friday night, inside the Fertitta Center in Houston. With the win, the Cougars extended their winning streak to five, a stretch of games that began with a victory over UTEP and mid-season championship during The Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic.

"The mindset of our team is to continuously remind ourselves that this is a new season," sophomore guard Nate Hinton said. "Conference is a new beast, and we are taking it one game at a time. To us, every game is a championship game."

While recording his seventh double-double of the season, Hinton scored a game-high 20 points (13 coming in the second half) on 58.3% shooting from the field, 50% from 3-point range. It was an exceptional all-around performance for the 6'5 guard out of Gastonia N.C., as Hinton notched a career-high 16 rebounds, five steals, three assists and a block in the win.

"Nate has just gotten better throughout the season," head coach Kelvin Sampson said. "When I recruited him, I knew from day one he was going to be a captain of this team because he impacts winning in so many different ways. He is a great representative of our program."

After missing two of their first three shots, it did not take long for the Cougars to shake off their holiday rust. Houston embarked on a 7-0 run ignited by freshman guard, Marcus Sasser, who scored five of the Cougars' first seven points following a slow start to the game.

However, a few bad calls and several unlucky buckets gave UCF a three-point lead en route of a 12-0 run late in the first half. Despite their mid-game turnaround, the Knights would not sustain their play as the Cougars took a 37-33 lead into the halftime break.

Although they closed the half connecting on all cylinders, the Cougars came out the gates in the second period struggling to buy a basket. After allowing UCF to come within two, Houston picked up their intensity on the defensive end and held the Knight scoreless for four straight minutes.

During the four-minute span, UCF missed seven consecutive shots and committed four turnovers during Houston's 9-0 run.

Junior forward Fabian White Jr, The Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic Most Outstanding Player, scored 13 points in the win, while Dejon Jarreau recorded 12 points shooting 12-for-14 from the charity stripe. For UCF, the Knights were led by Dazon Ingram who scored a team-high 13 points and Collin Smith who added in 11 in the loss.

Following the win, the Cougars will hit the road to take on the Temple Owls, Tuesday night, inside The Liacouras Center in Philadelphia. Tip-off is slated for 6:00 P.M. CT.

Quick Notes:

  • Freshman guard Caleb Mills left the game early in the second half following an allergic reaction. Coach Kelvin Sampson said after the game Mills is okay and will be ready to go by next game.
  • The Houston Cougars' outscored the Knights 28-15 in bench points.
  • The Cougars out-rebounded the Knights 45-41 in the win.


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The media has mixed feelings about the James Harden trade. Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

James Harden was 100-percent exactly right earlier this week when he said the Houston Rockets were "just not good enough."

How could they be? Not when their moody superstar scorer, who makes about half a million dollars per game, shows up chubby, looking like a kielbasa about to explode in the microwave. Hey, some people eat when they're unhappy, it's a defense mechanism. In Harden's case, the only defense he's exhibited this season. At least he had a good excuse for missing pre-season training camp and alienating his teammates - he was busy partying with Cinnamon and Cherish in Atlanta and Vegas without a mask. Worst of all, he went into the tank his last four games in a Rockets uniform, standing around, arms folded, scoring fewer than 20 points each time, all Rockets losses. Fans in the front row were asking him to move, he was blocking their view of players who cared about winning. James Harden sabotaged his own team, a team that offered him $50 million a year to stay. Something that crazy could only happen in professional sports these days.

There's a saying that drives the American labor movement: "a fair day's wage for a fair day's work." It's the motto of the American Federation of Labor. The National Basketball Players Association is not a member. Harden's sulking on the court, cheating the Rockets and their fans, was unforgivable.

Harden, sitting out games while somehow being on the court, forced the Rockets to trade him - and quick - to Brooklyn. The trade, when you ignore the fine print and unindicted co-conspirators Cleveland and Indiana, sent Harden to Brooklyn in exchange for Caris LeVert (immediately flipped for Victor Oladipo), Jarrett Allen, three first-round draft picks and four swapped first-rounders. It's true, when you trade a superstar, you never get back equal value. The other team wins.

If it makes Rockets fans feel any better, the media in New York already has problems with their new problem child. I should say newest problem child. Kyrie Irving plays for the Nets.

"They (the Nets) gave up everybody! There's nothing left now. I just want to cry, It's awful," weeped WFAN Radio talk host Evan Roberts. For those who don't subscribe to weekly Arbitron ratings reports, WFAN is the most powerful, top-rated sports talk station in the Apple.

"You're leading down the road of doom. Harden and Durant could be gone in a year and a half. I'm not convinced this gives them a better chance to win a title. I'm living a nightmare again. They better freaking win."

Circle March 3 on your Rockets schedule. That's when the Brooklyn Nets, with their Big 3 of Kevin Durant, James Harden and possibly Kyrie Irving visit Toyota Center. I hear talk radio salivating over the record jeers that will cascade over Harden's name, although I'm not buying it. Fans don't think like the media does. I'm thinking that Rockets fans will welcome Harden back - one night only - with cheers.

Toyota Center public address announcer Matt Thomas: "Usually when former Rockets come to town for the first time since leaving, I give them a positive introduction. It's up to the fans how to react."

James Harden spent eight seasons with the Rockets. He is a spectacular player who watched other NBA players engineer trades so they could compete for a title. Harden didn't think the Rockets were good enough, and he's right. So he wanted out. We've all been there, a job we didn't like for a company we didn't like, for a boss we didn't respect. Harden wanting to be traded is understandable. How he went about it was deplorable. He hurt his co-workers.

Houston will make Harden pay for his disrespectful departure. He has an upscale restaurant set to open here. The name of the steakhouse will be "13." Harden's business partners may want to change that number ... before the restaurant's telephone number is disconnected. There are plenty of other restaurants in Houston. Rich people who can afford steakhouse prices hold grudges.

Rockets fans searching for a silver lining say, "We got two decent players and a whole bunch of precious first-round picks" for a malcontent who would rather be anywhere (except maybe Sacramento) than Houston." Yes, a bunch of first-round picks does bode well for the future. Anywhere, except maybe Houston.

Houston's draft war room isn't the most successful operation in the NBA. Over the past decade prior to 2000, under the direction of general manager Daryl Morey, the Rockets made 16 draft picks. Not one of them is still in a Rockets uniform, many of them have sought employment outside of America, some outside of basketball. Among their first-round whiffs: Nikola Mirotic, Terrence Jones, Sam Dekker - all out of the league. Best of all, Royce White, who played three whole games in his NBA career and finished with a scoring average of 0.00 points per game.

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